Prime minster Gordon Brown has promised a bigger role for specialist nurses if Labour continue in government after the general election.
Mr Brown, who was addressing the first full day of the Royal College of Nursing’s annual Congress in Bournemouth, appeared to pitch his speech in response to concerns that trusts were cutting or reassigning specialist nurses in order to make short term savings.
Winning two standing ovations, Mr Brown told conference delegates: “We need more specialist nurses not fewer. We need to invest not only in developing your skills but in ensuring your greater autonomy in making referrals, prescribing and work to extend nurse consultants, the nurse practitioners, the nurse specialists.”
He also told the conference that personalised treatment and more care in the home would see a bigger role for nurses.
He said: “When we talk of the NHS as more than a universal service but also a personal service meeting more individual needs, we mean more power for nursing. So what we are talking about is the nursing profession rightly taking more day-to-day control of our NHS.”
He also praised the country’s nursing staff, saying: “The status of the profession, the prestige you have given the profession has never been higher. The health service depends on you and it is because of you that we have a health service we can be proud of.
Taking questions from the floor, Mr Brown promised to defend the status quo on NHS pensions.
One delegate, who worked for a primary care trust, said he and a colleague were concerned about what would happen to their pensions if they were transferred to a social enterprise scheme under the government’s Transforming Community Services programme, which has seen PCTs giving up control of community services such as district nursing.
Mr Brown replied: “The conditions that we agreed on pension reform two years ago stands. Others may wish to change these conditions but we are standing by them.”
He said a Labour government would also work on fixing the situation that sees women get smaller pensions when they interrupt their careers to start families.
Much of his speech was given over to praise of nursing and its part in the history of the NHS. He closed his answers to questions from delegates by saying: “You are the greatest profession of our country.
“You are the guardians of British people’s most treasured institution and most precious values. And that is why you are our country’s heroes, and you are mine.”